Alyssa Kwasny left Montreal for North Carolina on a Friday, kicked major ass on a Sunday, visited the Olive Garden and Cold Stone somewhere in between and arrived back in town on Monday — just in time to be called into work at the YWCA pool.
It’s just another whirlwind weekend in the life of the founder of the Montreal Roller Derby League, who is better known in derby circles as Georgia W Tush #40 (as in 40-ouncer, natch).
Kwasny founded the league in 2006 and has since introduced many ladies to derby, not only in Montreal, but also in a number of Canadian cities including her hometown, Thunder Bay (she’s also presently helping teams in the Maritimes get off the ground). Over the past four years, the Montreal league — particularly its travel team, the New Skids on the Block — has earned its reputation as one of the hardest working and hardest partying derby crews in North America. Colloquially dubbed the Skids, the team is the cream of the league’s crop, featuring the strongest players from the three home teams — the Contrabanditas, Filles du Roi and La Racaille, in order of league seniority.
They’re also identifiable from space, particularly when they perform their notorious dance routine in their traditional neon spandex attire. Kwasny credits their image with helping get the Skids on the North American derby map (“because we’re ridiculous!”), but hopes the derby world also recognizes the skill they exemplify on the track.
“[The Skids] have a two-year goal: to get awesome, and then to be awesome,” Kwasny says. The team is in the second year of that goal, and so far so good — as of this weekend’s game versus North Carolina, they currently hold an eight-game winning streak, beating out recent opponents by 50-100 points. As the first non-American team in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, they’re aiming to make it to regionals this year to compete against the best of the Eastern seaboard.
The sport itself has grown exponentially in the past half-decade, especially with last fall’s release of Drew Barrymore’s Whip It and the Montreal league’s appearance on the Rick Mercer Report in December. Coed and men’s teams have even begun playing the famously all-women sport, and the sport that once took root in underground subculture has become better known in the mainstream. Kwasny says more established leagues like Seattle’s play to upwards of 5,000 spectators, and even newer teams draw big crowds. This past winter, 2,000 fans came out for Winnipeg’s first game (versus Thunder Bay). Last year, hundreds of Montreal fans flocked to its rink at Arena St-Louis and so far, 1,000 people have RSVP’d via Facebook to the third annual derby monolith Beast of the East, a 16-team, 28-game tournament happening in Montreal this weekend (April 24-25).
Kwasny initially started the Beast tournament to develop Canadian roller derby, which, three years ago, was nowhere near the breadth and popularity of its American counterpart. Home teams from across Eastern Canada have first dibs on registering for the Beast; Montreal’s three home teams will also be competing.
Perhaps those 1,000 fans who’ve virtually RSVP’d to the Beast had their interest piqued by Whip It; perhaps others by Rick Mercer’s skating skills (or lack thereof), and still more because derby has proven to be a primo spot for hot lesbian action. It’s no secret that nearly half the Montreal players are lady-lovin’ ladies, and if Craigslist’s missed connections section is any kind of indicator, the Montreal queer community has caught on. The missed connections proliferate after each bout, and with the athleticism, risqué wardrobe and cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon, it’s not hard to understand why. “Apparently it’s a good pick-up spot,” Kwasny laughs.
The Beast of the East is a two-day event on April 24-25. One-day tickets are $15 and a two-day pass is $20, with special prices for kids. Be forewarned — it starts early and goes all day (but fans can come and go). See the schedule here: beast.mtlrd.com/schedule